Of owls, pigeons and glow in the dark piggies

After my tongue in cheek column about glow in the dark plants, scientist daughter has been emailing me information about the fluorescent protein. Bottom line is, dear Reader, the technology is here and is already routine in genetics. Not perhaps for a low tech plant breeder in Tikorangi, but the fluoro green pigs in Taiwan were pretty amazing. Green all through too, even to their internal organs. Zebra fish are now available overseas in genetically modified, iridescent pink, glow in the dark stripes. All from a gene isolated from jellyfish which converts to a protein and allows the development of a range of different colours. I mention this in case you don’t like green.

Before you throw your hands in the air in horror, the advantage of a fluoro green pig is in tracking the development of new cells (medical research of huge potential for many people) without having to resort to invasive techniques on live pigs. So there are pros and cons of glow in the dark piggies though I suspect a glow in the dark zebra fish is solely of novelty value, just as a glow plant would be.

But back to nature in our own garden. Some years ago, I landed the task of writing garden descriptions for nigh on seventy different gardens which stretched my vocabulary somewhat. Leaving aside the plethora of tranquil havens and peaceful retreats, a very large number of gardens wanted to highlight their birdsong. I recall having a discussion as to whose gardens in particular we would allow to include birdsong as a special feature, given that it did not seem to be unique at all. When Mark read of a garden proudly proclaiming over 30 different bird songs, he spent some time listing all the ones we have and came up well short, even when he cheated and included birds that do not sing.

But how many gardens have a family of resident moreporks? We have been delighted this week to have a family of five take up residence in one of our trees. Momma, poppa and the three young ones hang out together during the day in the castanospermum (commonly referred to as the Moreton Bay chestnut). While the parents sleep, the young ones are wide eyed and nervous, watching us watching them. Moreporks are as cute as any owl with their great big eyes giving them a perpetually startled appearance and their round, fluffy bodies. We are entranced. In the evening they fly around catching moths and if you watch a lighted window long enough, you may see the flash of wings as they swoop in to catch the fluttering prey. In the day they just hang about, their mere presence upsetting the tuis and other birds which fly under their roosting tree. You can hear their agitated chatter.

In our park, Mark is keeping a watchful eye on a nesting kereru. These clumsy big birds appear to have small brain power (dinosaurs of the ornithological world?) and are remarkably useless at building secure nests and raising young successfully. For years, Mark has been attempting to gently protect nesting wood pigeons and this year’s family is no exception. They have a flimsy nest built at eye level in a large holly bush and as it is highly likely that the baby will fall out and land on the ground sooner, rather than later, Mark has constructed a fence to protect it from predators. Festoons of bird netting a safe distance out, supported by poles and pegged to the ground will be sufficient, he hopes, to keep out rats, our lethargic ginger cat, wild cats and other predators for long enough to enable him to carry out a rescue should it be necessary.

This security netting took him the better part of half a day to install. As it is white bird netting, he came up feeling rather pleased that he had created something that reminded him a fairy castle. I went to have a look and it reminded me more of a shroud. Garden visitors assumed it was something to do with gathering the seed of the plant it surrounded. Baby kereru is now on the move. It can’t fly yet but it hops around the tree so is highly likely to end up on the ground soon. Maybe the combined efforts of its parents and Mark will keep it alive long enough to achieve independence.

We have yet to find where the quail are nesting but Mark is worried because they make nests on the ground and he envisages a distressing flurry of loose feathers should we get them with the weed eater. Commonly referred to as Californian quail, we have welcomed a resident pair into our garden. Not only are they endearingly attractive but their sounds of communication are gentle on the ear. We would be delighted if the population increased. We haven’t had resident quail in the garden for many years so the continued survival of this pair is a hopeful sign that the predator population is not too bad.

The rosellas may have signed their death warrants. Bright and attractive they may be with their jewel like plumage as they flash through the trees, but the news from a colleague that they ate every single bud of his Magnolia Vulcan this year did not endear them to us at all. New Zealand may rue the day that these Aussie imports were allowed to get well established in the wild here. And while their death warrants may be signed, how to carry out the executions is a different matter altogether. They are very quick birds.

While we would love to have a resident kaka, our friend and colleague at Oakura is rueing the presence of one in his garden. This particular visitor clearly disapproves of the introduction of exotic species. It has inflicted considerable damage ripping off large chunks of bark from rare conifers. We think we could forgive it, should it decide to move to our garden. These very rare birds have an amazing call but are seldom seen on the lowlands.

If you want to read a little more about the glow in the dark pigs, go to:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/asia-pacific/4605202.stm